PLA Navy expedition group crosses equator
Published: Feb 25, 2021 07:58 PM

A PLA Navy expedition group led by the Type 052D guided missile destroyer Yinchuan sails near the equator in early 2021. Photo: Screenshot from the Sina Weibo account of the PLA Navy.

A Chinese People's Liberation Army Navy expedition group led by a Type 052D destroyer recently crossed the equator as it sailed further into the open sea, and such missions enable the PLA to get familiar with the high seas as China eyes to build a blue-water navy, experts said on Thursday.

The joint expedition training group affiliated with the PLA Navy Southern Theater Command recently conducted a line-crossing ceremony as the warships sailed past the equator, according to a video released by the PLA Navy on its Sina Weibo account on Thursday.

It did not reveal the exact location and the destination of the expedition group.

Video shows the expedition group is a flotilla featuring the Type 052D guided missile destroyer Yinchuan, Type 071 amphibious landing ship Wuzhishan, Type 901 comprehensive replenishment ship Chaganhu, and what analysts said seems to be a Type 054A guided missile frigate and an electronic surveillance ship with their hull numbers unidentifiable. It is unknown if other vessels are included in the group.

The flotilla was sailing south and sailors have been conducting highly intensive combat preparedness exercises every day, said a narrator in a separate video released by the PLA Navy on Wednesday.

Media reports suggest that the expedition group has been out for a while, as the PLA Navy sent festive blessings to the 175 flotilla, which is the expedition group led by the Yinchuan, before the Spring Festival holidays, China Central Television (CCTV) reported on February 9. Yinchuan's hull number is 175. 

The 175 flotilla was conducting missions in the open seas, aiming to boost the sailors' core military capabilities, CCTV reported at that time, without giving further details.

China has been deploying naval expedition groups to the open seas in recent years. Last year, an expedition group featuring the Type 052D destroyer Hohhot, Type 054A frigate Xianning, electronic surveillance ship Tianshuxing and Type 901 replenishment ship Chaganhu sailed 14,000 nautical miles in a 41-day voyage, crossing the International Date Line deep into the Pacific Ocean for the first time, the PLA Southern Theater Command revealed in late February of 2020.

Analysts noted that compared to last year, this year's group featured an extra ship, namely the Type 071 amphibious landing ship.

The missions allow the PLA Navy to test its capabilities and hone skills in waters far from the mainland, where the service has less experience and understanding in terms of hydrological information, maritime environment and others, a military expert who requested anonymity told the Global Times on Thursday.

China is aiming to build a blue-water navy, and such missions are important, the expert said.